Los estudios realizados muestran que el “cariño con disciplina” resulta ineficaz para el tratamiento de la dependencia a las drogas. Más información, en inglés, está disponible abajo.

Many people know the story of the drunkard from Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince, who drinks because he is ashamed, and is ashamed because he drinks. This article is about how ancient wisdom and modern science teach us to avoid shaming as a tool to change people.

Today we know more about the relationship between shame and addiction. Scientific research revealed the central role childhood (or even transgenerational) trauma plays in later psychological disorders. Neurobiological studies explain how the reward system of the brain is distorted in people who did not receive adequate emotional impulses in their childhood. Especially in the early stages of the development of the brain. We know that love, empathy, connections can be learnt and these are not automatically given by birth. Drug addiction is not seen as a biochemical procedure generated by the consumption of some substances. We know that it is part of a learning procedure in which socially isolated persons living in erratic communities adopt to their environment with the help of substance use.

An important and integral part of this process is what Ronald Potter-Efron calls “the shame-addiction spiral“. Different kinds of psychological trauma, the lack of connection and emphatic skills, as well as social exclusion, often go together with intense shame. Studies among schoolchildren revealed that adolescents who often experience shame and succumb to it have a greater likelihood of developing substance-related problems (and committing crimes and/or suicide). The same correlation is not observed with guilt. The explanation is that people in shame feel pressured to escape from the unpleasant feeling, to play it down, to switch off the self as the disturbing factor.

If these people discover that it is fairly easy to achieve this goal with the help of drugs – with not much effort leading to relatively high effectiveness – they will soon be unable to control their own use. And immoderate use will cause negative consequences in interpersonal relationships, not to mention stigma, which will produce even more shame. So people will feel even worse than before.

Of course even people with a healthy emotional life can make mistakes when they are intoxicated. But in this case they will feel guilt, which helps them to avoid excessive use in the future. People suffering from the shame-addiction spiral will not feel motivated to offer reparations but to escape. They will be alienated even more from non-using friends and relatives, and will thus feel even less pleasure in everyday activities. They will fall even deeper down a black hole-like spiral which absorbs millions of people every year.

If we would like to break this spiral, it is better to start with the shame and not with the substance use. There is no recovery if we make people feel more ashamed, if we make them feel that they are unworthy. The findings of a study published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science demonstrated that shame increases the risk of relapse among people in recovery, just like healthy guilt is an inevitable part of their recovery.